As ‘stan Twitter’ has grown and evolved, so has the language used by the community – we look at the fight for attention in a new age of extreme
Most of us have pretty much never lived our adult lives without the internet. It’s affected us in innumerable ways – some good, some very bad – and despite not really knowing what a world without it looks like, it still continues to surprise us. In our Extremely Online series, we explore the apps, trends, subcultures, and all the other weird stuff the internet continues to offer.
“This man can stab me in the heart and I will love him”, “I’d let Ryan Ross punch me in the face”, “hit me with your car” – to those outside of “stan Twitter”, these statements might sound a little worrying to say the least. But unlike the fictional, dangerous fan they were named after, most of the “stans” writing these tweets don’t mean what they say; they’re simply using a hyperbolic fandom language born primarily out of Twitter. Thousands of fans all over the world reply to their faves with seemingly aggressive statements both against themselves and the artist they love. This piece will focus on music fans, but across all areas you’ll find fans screaming “choke me” and “I fucking hate you” into the void. Where previously a rabid fan sending these messages directly to an artist’s house might be arrested, now one yelling it in their mentions is seen as affectionate rather than threatening.
I would die for Ryan Ross and hopefully that happens tonight— rhiannon (@rosscoloredboy) December 25, 2017
But why? Isn’t it counter intuitive, when given the opportunity to interact directly with the people they idolise, to say something that might offend or scare them? There are a few explanations. Fandoms existed before the internet, but now they have a place to convene that doesn’t require them to leave the house. As the internet has evolved, so has the way that fans communicate with one another. Where fandom used to take place in the darkest corners of forums, DeviantArt accounts, LiveJournals and fan fiction pages, with the advent of social media fans have the ability to communicate directly with the people they were already writing about. That communication has had many forms, but perhaps most prominent is Twitter. Direct contact with celebrities, the most coveted of opportunities, is easy on Twitter, but with the brevity required on the platform – once 140, now 280 characters – and with the sheer amount of people trying to do the exact same thing, fans have to work harder than ever to grab the attention of their faves.
it's like 5pm there eat dinner u fucking headass— alexis // CHECK PINNED TWEET (@THERUNCANDGO) March 11, 2018
Which, partly, goes towards explaining why the language of fandom is so dramatic now. With the adoration of fans combined with that need to grab attention, the language has gotten increasingly both melodramatic and graphic in recent years. Shannon Sauro, an Applied Linguist and fan, told me that she believes fans do it because “using words to indicate their opposite meaning isn't new. Many of us have encountered people using ‘sick’ or ‘bad’ to praise things they really enjoy or admire. And since many fans are people who aggressively like something, this kind of language helps them express their aggressive appreciation for the thing they are a fan of.”
“Since many fans are people who aggressively like something, this kind of language helps them express their aggressive appreciation for the thing they are a fan of” – Shannon Sauro, Applied Linguist
But fans aren’t necessarily saying the opposite of what they feel; when they say “hit me with your car”, it seems to be a sort of self-deprecation. These fans often (mostly) have icons, handles and bios that are entirely related to their “fandom” – their Twitter identity is absolutely their faves’ identity rather than their own. They’ve given their entire life to their icons, Saying “kill me [x]” isn’t to be taken seriously, but it could be meant to express just how far they would go for their fave.
I spoke to Stephen Pihlaja, another Applied Linguist. He told me that insulting someone to show affection is not new; in fact, “we all do it as a way to protect ourselves from being exposed to the hurt of saying that we care about someone and not having them respond in the way we’d hope. It’s much easier to call a your friend an asshat than to say ‘I appreciate you’. Like lots of stuff online, this gets amplified because you have both this access to incredibly famous people, but also the sense that they are unlikely to ever see what you tweet anyway.”
He added that, “fans are trying to get the attention of celebrities or to raise their own visibility, and being insulting or shocking is a good way to do that. It also has some of the elements of the defence mechanisms I mentioned. Being too big a fan of something might be seen negatively, so if you insult someone you like, you aren’t left out in the open in a way you might be if you said you loved them.”
“We all do it as a way to protect ourselves from being exposed to the hurt of saying that we care about someone and not having them respond in the way we’d hope” – Stephen Pihalja, Applied Linguist
Newee, 24, a fan who also holds a linguistics degree, told me that this language isn’t only online; at a Twenty One Pilots concert, they once heard a teen fan yell “I will pay Josh Dun to run me over with his car!” As to why they think fans speak in this way now, Newee told me that they don’t remember fans sounding this aggressive ten years ago, and that they think “those expressions are ones of awe, like ‘something is so good that I can die now nothing will ever top this’. You're in so much awe of the person you want them to end your suffering.”
Experts are one thing, but the only way to understand fandom is to speak to those embedded in it. I spoke to Rashveen, 20, who tweets things like this, and believes that “it's just the development of language, to include incredibly inflated hyperbole, mixed with sarcasm and irony. People using aggressive and inflated language to show genuine adoration of a person, but also just how internet language is evolving.” They added that they are influenced by people doing it first, but it now feels like second nature. “Audiences feel connected to the person they're watching through the screen, and regard them as a peer or friend so they feel comfortable using this sort of language”, Rashveen told me, but added that as our world isn’t separate to the one online and that “fatalistic humour is on the rise because a large majority of younger millennials and Gen Z kids are depressed, the economy is in ruins and the world is burning all around us”.
brendon did a live stream and he looked like the most soft festive boi ever and he was so happy and in the end he cried because talking about a fan video Christmas present this man can stab me in the heart and I will love him okay thanks bye pic.twitter.com/WfIJLJv7l3— bani ☕ (@rashveen15) December 24, 2017
Amen, 18, tells me that they believe it’s easier to make fun of someone when you “love them with your whole heart”, echoing Stephen’s theory. A concern is that the faves might misinterpret a well-meaning sentiment and be scared off by the fans; Amen told me that they have “seen a lot of artists get confused about the fake-mean tweets”, adding, “I feel super horrible and bad, I'm never trying to insult my faves even when I say mean things I mean them in like a friendly teasing way. I know some of the people I stan are uncomfortable with it so I try to tone it down”.
“Fatalistic humour is on the rise because a large majority of younger millennials and Gen Z kids are depressed, the economy is in ruins and the world is burning all around us” – Rashveen
While this hyperbolic, aggressive language might seem concerning to an artist or absolute outsider, it isn’t new for fandom to have its own uninterpretable lexicon. Much has been written on the unique language of Tumblr fandom, from “feels” to “I can’t even”, and the “choke me to death daddy” realm of Twitter is only a new iteration of this. There are many reasons; an inability to process the absolute emotion that comes from loving something that purely, an attempt at humour, a stab at grabbing the attention of a fave at any cost, an unrelenting horniness. And self-flagellation at the altar of a god is not new, either; the bible was just a whole different kind of fandom. Fans threaten to kill their faves for a “joke” or to offset their absolute love; they offer themselves as sacrifice because they think they aren’t worthy. Whatever the reason, teens and fans will continue to lead the charge for ever-evolving language online, and those outside of it will continue to be baffled.